The best fantasy novels with complex female leads

Who am I?

My passion for female-led fantasy began from the time I was a young girl and spans across a lifetime of reading the genre—but not necessarily always seeing my own heart reflected in the tough-as-nails, devil-may-care girls and women who began to dominate the fantasy landscape once I hit my teens. By sharing about an array of fantasy female leads who range across a wide spectrum of origins, personalities, and perspectives, I hope to help other readers just like me find characters they resonate with and stories that stick with them for a lifetime—just like these ones have for me.


I wrote...

Darkwind

By Renee Dugan,

Book cover of Darkwind

What is my book about?

Darkwind kicks off the epic high-fantasy journey of Princess Cistine, the noble but naïve heir to a kingdom under a threat of war. To save her home, she embarks on a reckless journey to entreat their former enemies for an alliance against this new and ever-growing danger.

But foreign lands hold as much peril as promise, a lesson Cistine quickly learns when she falls in with a wild band of outlaws. For a price, they agree to train her to fight for herself and her people, to strike the treaties that can save them all, and to become what her endangered kingdom needs: a warrior queen.

The books I picked & why

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The Saltwater Heir

By Cassidy Clarke,

Book cover of The Saltwater Heir

Why this book?

Finding The Saltwater Heir and falling in love with its female lead, Princess Soren—who balances softness and strength in equal measure—was something that got me out of a reading slump of many years and changed the way I view female-led fantasy as a whole. Soren is steel and roses; she is a fun-loving, fierce gremlin of a girl who spoke to the wildness that lives in my heart. Her sass and wit were only outmatched by her willingness to lay down her life for those she loved most. That fierce attachment to her family and friends was something I had been missing in a lot of recent fantasy reads, and it endeared me to her from the moment I began reading! I also adored how she played off of the rest of the cast, particularly her siblings and best friend. Her complexity made the whole book absolutely un-put-down-able! 

The Saltwater Heir

By Cassidy Clarke,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Saltwater Heir as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Graceling

By Kristin Cashore,

Book cover of Graceling

Why this book?

Though lead character Katsa might be considered a more conventional tough female character, her story was one that gripped me as a young teenager and has stuck with me for all the years since. Katsa is a woman of great wiles stuck in an impossible place, striving for what often seems like an impossible goal; and the way she fiercely protects and loves what is hers to defend has made her one of the most memorable female fantasy heroines I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading about!

Graceling

By Kristin Cashore,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Graceling as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Discover the Graceling Realm in this unforgettable, award-winning novel from bestselling author Kristin Cashore.

A New York Times bestseller
ALA Best Book for Young Adults
Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children's Literature Winner
Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal,Booklist, and BCCB Best Book of the Year

"Rageful, exhilarating, wistful in turns" (The New York Times Book Review) with "a knee weakening romance" (LA Times). Graceling is a thrilling, action-packed fantasy adventure that will resonate deeply with anyone trying to find their way in the world.

Graceling tells the story of the vulnerable-yet-strong Katsa, who is smart and beautiful and lives in the…

Daughter of the Deep

By Lina C. Amarego,

Book cover of Daughter of the Deep

Why this book?

Female lead Keira Branwen is one of the most beautifully flawed female fantasy leads I’ve ever read! I was hooked right from the start by the fact that a great deal of the plot is precipitated by Keira’s understanding of certain events…an understanding that may not even be true. Her struggle to come to grips with the fact that she’s lived a lie for so many years, and how she deals with the fallout of numerous shifts in her perception of the world, was encouraging, inspiring, and riveting. This book made me appreciate the feminine spirit and the small victories that make up who we are.

Daughter of the Deep

By Lina C. Amarego,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Daughter of the Deep as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Gilded

By Marissa Meyer,

Book cover of Gilded

Why this book?

Serilda was such a breath of fresh air in the fantasy genre landscape! I can’t think of a single female lead who quite feels like her. From the rich lore that surrounds her origins, to her vivid imagination, storytelling prowess, and the way she sees the world, Serilda became an instant favorite for me. Her nurturing love of the children in her care and her father are so perfectly at odds with the call to intrigue and adventure that makes up the other, more mischievous half of who she is. Watching the tug of war between these two halves of Serilda’s heart made this thick book absolutely fly by.

Gilded

By Marissa Meyer,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Gilded as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

All magic comes at a price, but love was never part of the bargain . . .

The look he was giving her. Serilda had never been looked at like that before . . . The intensity.
The heat. The raw astonishment. He was going to kiss her.

Cursed by the god of lies, a miller's daughter has developed a talent for storytelling - but are all of her tales as false as they appear?

When one of Serilda's stories draws the attention of the devastating Erlking, she finds herself swept away into a world of enchantment, where ghouls prowl…

Royal Decoy

By Heather Frost,

Book cover of Royal Decoy

Why this book?

There is actually quite the cast of fantastic female leads in this multi-POV fantasy series! Clare, Serene, and Mia are just a few of the wonderful women who make up this cast. From decoys in training to rebellious princesses to captives with more to them than meets the eye, each female perspective in this book adds a new, profound layer against a backdrop of rich worldbuilding. No two women feel the same, and the insight brought on by each immersed me deeper into an ever-expanding, ever-enriching world. This was an instant favorite of mine from Clare’s very first chapter, and it only gets better with each subsequent one!

Royal Decoy

By Heather Frost,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Royal Decoy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in family secrets, Pirates, and good and evil?

6,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about family secrets, Pirates, and good and evil.

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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